Grooming in Child Sexual Abuse

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For parents and teachers, this is an important post on child sexual abuse. Please do read and share with as many as you can.

I have been wanting to write this post for some time now and with more cases of child sexual abuse coming in for therapy it made no sense to delay it. We have the POCSO act in India now but as always since it has no systematic implementation (though the government and associated agencies claim otherwise), many young children fall prey to sexual predators every day. Contrary to what many believe the abuser is not always a stranger on the street. Most cases in India are in the form of incest making the dynamics of protecting our children more complex. Boys and girls are at risk for child sexual abuse. I have shared the child abuse pamphlet and modules with several parents and credible teachers in the last few years. This post is on GROOMING.

In most child sexual abuse cases, the abuser ‘grooms’ their victims and the victim’s parents before the abuse, so that disclosure of the abuse is less likely and/or less believable. Grooming is also the process by which an offender draws a victim into a sexual relationship and maintains that relationship in secrecy.
For example, the predator may hide his/her wallet or something precious like a chain or ring in the child’s school bag, stage a situation of making everyone to look for it and find it in the bag. After the incident, the parent is less likely to trust the child and so when the child discloses the abuse at a later time, parents are likely to assume that the child is making up the story to get back at the predator.
How is Grooming done?
Sexual predators often use fear, isolation, power, and silence as tactics but the most effective and deceptive tool they use is the grooming process to prepare their victims for an eventual abuse. Grooming is the tactic of gradually and methodically building trust with a child – and the adults around them – to gain increased access and alone time with their future victim. This can come in several forms; the offender may assume a caring role in the child’s life. The predator always looks for ways to take advantage of the child and becoming the “caring” person who always reads to them, plays with them or does special favours.

What does a predator gain by Grooming?
The articles I have read and my own documentation of cases who have come in for therapy have revealed that the predator gains significant advantages through grooming, such as reducing disclosure, reducing the likelihood of the child being believed, reducing detection, manipulating adult perception of the child, and convincing the child into being a more cooperative participant. The predator is usually very charming and will use every possible trick to gain the ‘approval’ and trust of the child through the grooming process. 
Stages of Grooming:
Grooming goes through some specific stages and is never a one- time thing. It increases gradually.
Targeting the victim: The predator carefully chooses the child they want to abuse. Vulnerabilities like disabilities (physical, mental, learning), working or absent parents, children with low self-esteem and confidence, and emotional neediness are the easiest prey. Most predators also choose jobs where they can be around children 
Gain trust: once a suitable victim is selected the predator will spend time collecting information about the child, family, routines, family dynamics and with this information plan ways in which they can play a more active role in the child’s life to gain trust. 
Fill a need: The predator always looks for gaps in supervision, times when the parent is unavailable and opportunities to exploit the child-parent relationship to become the “trusted care giver” in the child’s life.
Isolation: Once they have established the trust of the adults and of the child, they will make it a point to spend more time alone with the child. 
Make the relationship sexual: Most predators play on the child’s natural curiosity to advance their own ulterior sexual motives. At a stage of sufficient emotional dependence and trust, the offender progressively sexualizes the relationship. Desensitization occurs through talking, exposure to inappropriate pictures or videos, even creating situations (like going swimming) in which both offender and victim are naked. When teaching a child, the grooming sex offender shapes the child’s sexual preferences and can manipulate what a child finds exciting and extend the relationship in this way. The child comes to see himself/herself as a more sexual being and to define the relationship with the offender in more sexual and special terms. This also becomes very convenient later because the child will get blamed for “curiously doing” things that were not appropriate.
Maintain control: Threats, bribes, secrets and a whole lot of tricks follow the abuse to keep the victim silent and to have them available for continues abuse. 
Parents and teachers need to start with early and proper education. Conversations and activities (like I have done in many government and private schools over 15 years) about how to prevent child sexual abuse must start at a young age by educating children about their ‘private’ parts, the difference between appropriate, inappropriate and confusing touches, and what to do when a predator attempts to cross the line. Having this conversation will make a child a much harder target for a would-be predator. Maximizing supervision at home and school is essential. Since we still do not have a system in India to prevent abusers from taking up jobs in schools or other places where they have access to children, it is essential to supervise as much as possible and reduce “dark spaces” in our homes and schools where an abuser may find it easier to abuse a child.
Predators can identify children who haven’t received enough attention from their parents, and will act to fill that void. Take time to be there for your child, let him or her know that you love them, and spend time with them. Constantly comparing your child to others, pushing them into classes they dislike, making them feel unwanted or pressured by your demands also creates voids that a predator may find easy to target. Your child needs to feel loved and accepted not for what they do but for who they are. Your attitude shapes your child as an inner voice. Predators make a note of these things while gathering information about the family dynamics and will use it to lure the child or to gain trust.
Know the Warning Signs: Become aware of mood shifts or irregular behaviours in your child as they can often be associated to a child’s sexualized relationship with the predator. Disclosure happens only when there is two-way communication and when the child feels accepted by you

( I wrote about my work with Child Sexual Abuse and Grooming first as a facebook post in January 2017, Since then there are Tamil Videos of mine online and also messages that have been circulated about this online. The Picture is from the internet)

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